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‘I went through the menopause at 34 but self-care helped me through’

Ronié Williams, an operations manager from Orpington, Kent came off the Pill at the age of 34 hoping to get pregnant. But her dreams of having a family were shattered when she was diagnosed was premature ovarian insufficiency (POI). The shock was devastating but Ronié, now 41, has rebuilt her life with therapy and self-care.

As told to Andreina Cordani

‘I remember the exact moment my symptoms started. Half-way through a meeting, a single bead of sweat started to trickle down the side of my face. I tried to ignore it and concentrate on speaking to my colleagues. My company was based in an old building, it was the middle of winter and everyone else was walking around in scarves and coats, but my body felt like a furnace.

I remembered my mum getting THEM when she had her menopause, but I was only 34. What was going on?

I had just come off the pill to start a family but soon realised my periods had stopped. I had blood tests, and my doctor – an older man who was a bit uncomfortable talking about “ladies’ problems” – referred me for IVF. At the time, he mentioned the words premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) but I didn’t really take it in, because I was so certain IVF would sort me out.

My specialist explained that they needed to down-regulate my ovaries, to stop them working until my womb lining was the right thickness. After that, I would have a trigger shot to re-awaken them and release an egg.

It was an awful process – the injections were painful, my thighs were black and blue. My husband and I were arguing – he wasn’t as keen to go ahead as me and work was incredibly stressful at the time too. But I was still hopeful.

Then, at my scan, the woman kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My ovaries had gone into survival mode, refused to shut down. My specialist suggested a three month break – by the time it was over, my marriage had broken down. A few days before Christmas 2017 I took my unused trigger shot out of the fridge. As I closed the door my heart started pounding, I struggled to breathe – a full-on panic attack hit me. This was it. I was never going to have a baby.

I couldn’t eat, just stared into space smoking and watching Modern Family on repeat. I’d already had to deal with a lot in my life – I grew up as a carer for a mentally ill relative, I’d survived an abusive relationship before my husband. This felt like one blow too many. I couldn’t stop thinking, why me?

But after a week my mentality shifted. I told myself, I’m not giving in. I refuse to let this ruin my life. I decided 2018 was going to be my year of happiness, of putting myself first.

A good friend of mine recommended a psychotherapist, and I started to work through it with her. She used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, which helps manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

She also used also a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, or EMDR. This is a process that uses eye movement and other techniques to strip the emotion out of a bad memory, helping you process it differently.

I also found an app called Thought Diary Pro which helped me manage my overthinking. Slowly, the therapies began to work.

When your whole life collapses, you can start to treat it like Jenga. I picked the bits of my personality I liked, and decided to keep those and then tried to pull out the unhealthier aspects – like being too hard on myself – and work on those.

It sounds so simple but of course it wasn’t easy. I’d have down days and angry days. Before therapy I would have told myself to buck up and get on with life but now I gave myself permission to sit with it, to feel sorry for myself for a day. CBT helped me realise that it’s OK to do that.

This is the time I started to accept that what I was going through was early menopause, that my ovaries had stopped functioning correctly. It took a while for it to sink in – when my doctor suggested HRT I burst into tears. This couldn’t be right – I was only 37.

It took a while to get my dosage right. I had so many side-effects: depression with one, weight gain and acne with another. I tried the coil and bled for three months. When I tried to come off it entirely my anxiety, sleeplessness and palpitations went into overdrive – and once I did a record 22 pees in one night!

Five years on, things are stable. I use 175mg oestrogen patches plus one pump of gel. I’m also on testosterone replacement, take progesterone for 14 days a month. and use Ovestin vaginal cream.

I’ve got my life under control. I love exercise and I’m the fittest I’ve been in years and have a new partner, Sam, who’s very supportive. Finding a community helped enormously. I’m part of the Daisy Network*, an organisation for women dealing with POI, and belong to several Facebook groups where we swap advice and experiences.

Not being able to have children is a wound that will never fully heal – and for a number of reasons adoption or surrogacy aren’t an option right now. But there are so many good things in my life – my partner, my parents and brother, and a successful career. This isn’t how I thought things would turn out but therapy has given me the tools to deal with it and to create a full, rewarding life on my own terms.

You can find more information about the Daisy Network here

If POI is a reality for you or a loved one or to simply understand more about the condition this expert advice and information will help.

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